Florida Gators Football: 5 Impact Newcomers for the 2011 Season
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With the unknown comes intrigue.
That's why every year college football fans find the first Wednesday in February just as exciting as—and in many instances more than—Saturdays in the fall.
After all, on National Signing Day everyone is a star (or in the case of Florida, a 5-, 4- or 3-star), and fans love dreaming up ways these kids are going to make the big sack to stop a late drive by Alabama or catch the 40-yard touchdown pass to win at Auburn.
It is fantasy football with a side of Clearasil.
So, which newcomers will make the most significant contributions in their first year on campus? Here are five who could be called upon early by new coach Will Muschamp.
1. Kyle Christy, Fr., Punter
This one was a no-brainer. With Ray Guy Award-winning punter Chas Henry waiting out the NFL lockout so he can sign a contract as a priority rookie free agent, the Gators need a new leg 15 yards behind center on fourth down.
A 3-star prospect (high for players of his position) from Brownsburg, Ind., Christy enrolled early and had a nice spring. He is favored to win the job over walk-on David Lerner in the preseason.
Which of these newcomers will have the biggest impact for Florida in the 2011 season?
2. Chris Martin, RFr., DE/OLB
OK, so this isn't Martin's first year on campus, but it will be the first he is eligible.
An athletic 6'4", 240-pound transfer from California, Martin exited spring drills as a second-team defensive end. He is expected to play a lot of snaps, and like sophomore Ronald Powell, Martin could line up as a pass rusher at both ends and outside linebacker.
3. A.C. Leonard, Fr., TE
New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will have the Gators running pro-style sets that often will include the use of two tight ends. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed will be the starter, but Leonard should get plenty of snaps.
A former prep quarterback who was a January enrollee, the 6'4", 245-pound Leonard has gained 13 pounds of muscle since his senior year in high school and is comfortable with the ball in his hands. And if injuries or poor play necessitates Reed moving back to quarterback, Leonard would become the No. 1 option at tight end.
Which of these Gator defensive backs will play the most as a freshman?
4. Marcus Roberson, Fr., CB
With former All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins booted from the team for multiple marijuana possession arrests, there will be a need for one or more freshmen to see immediate action alongside veterans Jeremy Brown, Moses Jenkins, Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins.
At 6'1", 170 pounds, Roberson will need to add some weight, but he enters UF as the most highly rated of the Gators' six defensive back signees. He also comes from a bigtime program in Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and faced many of the nation's best while with the Raiders.
Don't count out other freshmen seeing action in the secondary, and Pop Saunders has the advantage of having enrolled prior to spring practice. That said, his prep alma mater, DeLand High School, didn't do him any favors by listing him at 6'0", as he somehow has shrunk to 5'8" on Florida's roster.
Still, Saunders, Louichez Purifoy and Valdez Showers also are prolific return men, something which could put them on the field early, even if it isn't on defense.
5. Clay Burton, Fr., DL
Who cares that he was only listed as a 3-star prospect, and who cares that it took the Gators a while to pull the trigger on a scholarship offer?
If Clay has anywhere near the motor of older brother Trey—he had the six-touchdown game against Kentucky—the younger Burton will be difficult to keep on the sidelines.
Clay arrived in January, and don't be surprised to see him become a standout quickly on special teams. It will be tougher to crack the rotation on the defensive line, but who outside of the Burton household could have imagined Trey would have the type of freshman year he did?
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